- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

One of the reasons teaching is such a treat is that it forces this baby boomer to comprehend contemporary culture. Once my students warm up, they have no qualms about telling me exactly what's on their young minds.
My "old school" reaction to their MTV world view is either to encourage them, challenge them or simply to cringe.
I've done a lot of the latter lately, given their reports and papers. No, it's not the grammar or spelling or style errors that grip me. It's their chosen topics. More prevalent in their daily lives, it appears, are such troubling issues as increasing crime, date rape, eating disorders and drinking.
Binge drinking, to be exact. No other topic captures these students' attentions more. Even the students who don't deliberately drink excessively worry about their classmates who do. So do I.
For the over-the-hill set, the American Medical Association says binge drinking consists of consuming at a single sitting five or more drinks in a row for males and four or more drinks in a row for females.
Maybe you missed it, but the National Institutes of Health released a study earlier this month that stated an estimated 1,400 college students die each year and another 500,000 are injured in alcohol-related accidents.
We're not talking about simple rite of passage silly stuff here. These kids are not playing and we need to pay more attention.
Most of my students at Catholic University seem reasonably sensible. But there are a few in every crowd who give you great pause. They can be counted among the 44 percent of college students who regularly imbibe, according to Harvard University studies. I can now tell, for example, which of those fresh faces lives to go "clubbing" because they have a terrible time staying awake through my thrilling class (Smile).
Gregory Parker, a media studies major, writes that students are not just having a beer here and there on the weekends; they are drinking to get drunk often daily.
"Many adults come home from a long day at work and sit down with a glass of wine, or have a beer with dinner. However, this leisurely style of consuming alcohol does not carry over to America's youth," he writes. A classmate adds that high school and college students "don't drink because they like the taste or to relax. They mainly drink to get drunk."
Binge drinking, Mr. Parker informs me, begins around age 13 and peaks somewhere between 18 and 22.
Violent behavior, drunken driving and unplanned, unprotected sexual relations are other problems resulting from binge drinking, says Mike Hagerty, a member of the staff at the Tower, the student newspaper. He tells of a classmate who "routinely wakes up with a headache, nausea and amnesia from the previous night's activities," and the student "knowingly and willingly brings this sickness on himself."
Yet, like many college students, Mr. Hagerty's friend doesn't believe he has a drinking problem. "I'm just going out to have a good time," he says.
Mr. Hagerty notes that the Harvard study indicates that "only 21 percent of binge drinkers actually admit they have a drinking problem, and only 3 percent sought help for their habit."
Further, the AMA survey shows that 95 percent of all violent crimes that occur on college campuses are alcohol-related, and 90 percent of all campus rapes (70,000 in one year) involve one or both the parties using alcohol.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 37 percent of all accident fatalities of motorists between the ages of 18 and 24 have been alcohol-related.
Even though the legal drinking age is 21, my students are quick to quip that there are no shortages of places to binge in the District, including places in which 18-year-olds are allowed in "any day of the week."
"One only has to walk a couple of blocks from any of our national monuments downtown to find a bar or restaurant," writes sophomore Ted Moralle as he reviews a list of beer joints from Capitol Hill to Georgetown to Friendship Heights.
"Washington, D.C., is a great city for going out at night," writes sophomore Craig Miller. "The club scene, which is incredibly extensive, can be found in any part of the city."
A classmate concurs. "New York may be the city that never sleeps, but D.C. is the city that never sobers up," she said.
Are you listening, members of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, who grant liquor licenses?
Only junior Julia Koropoulos, a native Washingtonian and the daughter of the owner of trendy La Tomate in Adams Morgan, offers a suggestion in her column, "The Dish on Local Hang-outs," for an alternative coffeehouse setting where studying is welcome: Tryst on 18th Street NW.
And underage drinking is not only an issue in the District.
Last year the Montgomery County Council released a survey that showed a shocking rise in the number of underage drinkers, some of whom are getting behind the wheel of a car.
The report, which painted a picture of youthful weekend beer blasts, indicated that a third of high school seniors engaged in binge drinking within 30 days of the survey.
More alarming was the number of sixth- and eighth-graders who binge drink; their number has tripled since 1992.
Wake up, people.
Forget the deadly denial. The prom, graduation and spring fever season is fast approaching. We've all got a serious problem that as parents, politicians and educators, we must attack.
After all, to teach is to learn.

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